Opening up with a stranger is not easy at all, especially if you are shy, introvert, or you just care about your privacy. Telling an unknown person a meaningful episode of your life that has contributed to making you the person you are now is a real challenge. However, letting that other person tell your story in the first person in front of other people is a completely different thing. You would feel exposed, you would feel weak.
Wouldn’t everything change if the others did the exact same thing you have just done? You would be all on the same level, and you would really understand and respect the fact that everyone has struggles, regardless of the way they look. Understanding, empathizing, building trust, and respecting others regardless of their background through the exchange of personal stories is what the non-for-profit organization Narrative 4 (N4) is all about.
Founded in 2013, the group aims at going beyond barriers and stereotypes through storytelling, by operating in schools and universities of many countries across the world, in order to make the new generation of global citizens more empathetic, sensitive and aware.
The process is simple: after a moderator has paired two strangers, they spend some time together and share their narratives in a relaxed environment. Afterwards, the entire group reunites, and each one reports the partner’s story in the first person. That is the essential step in the N4 method. In fact, listening to a story with enough attention to re-tell it in the first person means truly understanding what the partner is saying, thus empathizing with him. As I have been told during my first encounter, a Narrative 4 talk is synonym for making not new contacts, but new friends.
As bonding is a fundamental part of college life, and it is not very easy at JCU to bond with people outside of classes, having the N4 experience under the supervision of the Office for Mental Health and Wellbeing of our university would be a unique opportunity. In fact, N4 student ambassador, Sophia De Vivo, has proposed to start holding some encounters at JCU. On March 17th, I participated in the pilot version. Based on the success, there are high chances that the project will be implemented into the community.
Although at first I was a bit skeptical about the whole “expose yourself” thing, after listening to one of the stories, I realized that it is truly relieving to share freely any major life experience or life story. By letting people open up about an otherwise secret story, Narrative 4 gives the opportunity to let sorrows go, while being supported by positive feelings of understanding and care.
JCU’s international community would benefit enormously. By building a mutual trust that strips away the typical narratives of cynicism and despair, we could build a new narrative for immigration, for the environment, for equality and peace.